AFP - Amnesty International said Wednesday that armed Tuaregs and Islamists, who seized northern Mali after a coup, had carried out grave rights abuses such as rape, murder and using child soldiers.
A report released by the London-based rights group said soldiers had also carried out extrajudicial killings, branding the crisis Mali's worst human rights situation in 50 years.
"After two decades of relative stability and peace, Mali is now facing its worst crisis since independence in 1960," said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International's West Africa researcher after a research mission to the country.
"The entire north of the country has been taken over by armed groups who are running riot. Ten of thousands of people have fled the region, creating a humanitarian crisis in Mali and in neighbouring countries."
A rebellion by armed Tuareg nomads prompted overwhelmed soldiers to oust the president on March 22, but led to the rebels and their Islamist allies capturing the north of the country, an area larger than France.
Bamako, engaged in political wrangling with a former junta on a transition government, has been unable to focus on the unfolding crisis in the north.
The Amnesty researchers collected testimony from women and girls who said they were "raped, sometimes collectively, by armed men including by members of the MNLA (the main Tuareg separatist Azawad Liberation Movement), particularly in Menaka and Gao."
"Delegates found evidence of the presence of child soldiers within the ranks of the armed Tuareg and Islamists groups..."
However the report states that soldiers too, were guilty of human rights violations.
"Malian soldiers beat and then extra-judicially executed three unarmed people accused of spying for the MNLA in Sevare (630 kilometres, 390 miles north of Bamako) on 18 April 2012," read a statement from Amnesty.
The armed groups have also tortured and abused captured soldiers, slitting their throats, according to testimony from other soldiers who were taken prisoner and later released.
The Islamist group, Ansar Dine, which has set about imposing Sharia law in the towns under its control, including fabled Timbuktu, is using intimidation, violence and arbitrary killings to do so.
Mootoo warned that without efforts to protect human rights "the entire sub-region risks destabilisation through the effects of political instability, armed conflict in the north and the food crisis which affects the whole of the Sahel."
Amnesty urged Malian authorities and armed groups to allow United Nations and other humanitarian agencies unrestricted access to refugees and internally displaced people, particularly in northern Mali.